John Howard, 37
Position: President and owner, A2Z Music Factory (703-444-1562).
What He Does: Howard DJs about 80 events a year and offers lighting and photobooth services. More than half of his bookings are weddings.
“The bride and groom trust you with the most important day of their lives,” Howard says. “You have to give them an event that’s as close to perfect as you can.”
When Howard meets with each couple that hires him, he gives them a list of the current top 200 most requested party songs, as ranked by DJ Intelligence, a site for event professionals. Howard asks the pair to select the songs they love and hate, so that he can get an idea of their tastes. Once the big day arrives, he focuses on keeping the beats coming and emceeing the reception — often engaging the guests with games, like a quiz about the couple.
The idea is to make it all seem effortless, but it’s a job that takes a lot of preparation and time. Howard estimates he prepares for 20 to 30 hours for each wedding, and that’s not including the time it takes to travel to events, set up, perform and tear down his equipment.
He keeps the crowd partying through a combination of making them laugh, playing music that the couple and their guests love, and nixing hard-to-dance-to requests (or reserving them for cocktail hour).
Howard spends about 40 hours a week working on his business, he says, that includes booking events, responding to clients, and hiring contractors to assist with lighting and other big jobs.
How He Got the Job: Howard DJed his first party for a friend of his parents when he was 16 years old.
“I had this innate ability to take music and allow people to forget about their problems for at least three hours and have a good time,” he says. “It’s a really fun thing to do.”
Howard worked his way through college by DJing parties and weddings, marketing himself through word of mouth.
A few years after moving to the D.C. area, he worked with a lawyer to incorporate his business and started going to wedding expos to build his clientele. Soon he had relationships with other wedding vendors and became a “preferred vendor” for certain venues, so couples at those spots were more likely to hire him. He also uses wedding planning website Wedding Wire and his own website to promote his brand.
Who Would Want This Job: As an aspiring party master, you have to be ready to give up your weekends. Also resign yourself to not having a steady paycheck, especially as you build your business, which can take years. To maintain a regular income, Howard still keeps a day job as an IT consultant at the Smithsonian Institution.
DJs need to be comfortable in front of a crowd, not just behind a laptop. “A lot of people think DJing is just about the music, but DJing is really about emceeing and how you present yourself,” Howard says.
Knowing your music is obviously essential: Howard keeps up by subscribing to a service called Promo Only, which sends him 40 top-of-the-charts songs, across genres, every week. Howard’s background in I.T. helps him troubleshoot equipment problems on-site.
How You Can Get This Job: Start by talking to other DJs about how they keep parties and their businesses going. Howard says having a mentor is crucial. His first mentor was his best friend’s dad, a former DJ.
Budding disc jockeys can join the American Disc Jockey Association and seek out industry conferences to pick up tips about music technology or wedding marketing.
DJ classes, like those offered at Beat Refinery School (877-434-2328), which has locations in Bethesda and Herndon, Va., are useful and some even offer a professional certification (though having one isn’t required to book jobs). Check out online classes on sites at dubspot.com or djtutor.com. LIZ ESSLEY WHYTE (FOR EXPRESS)